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Should Americans Really Have to Know About the Constitution and Government?

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It’s a simple question really and one that seems to obvious to people while also being elusive. When I mention to anyone that I’m an American government instructor, people of every ideology and background all respond with something like this:

“Oh, wow. That’s important! We really need that education now. I know I don’t know as much as I should. That’s great you’re teaching it.”

It’s like America’s innately know and understand that they should know about government, maybe not the Constitution so much, but at least government and even feel a bit guilty about their lack of knowledge when they find out I’m a government instructor. However, most people seem to acknowledge they don’t know much and just don’t have the time, energy or even the resources to know and understand it.

A few may claim to know a good bit, but most, when pressed, don’t know as much as they’d like to think they do.

And I don’t blame them. The education system in the United States, starting from a young age, through higher education, minimizes and diminishes the value of a basic understanding of government and the Constitution.

a woman standing in the classroom

It’s just not prioritized or taught, and if it is taught, it’s taught in the most bare, usually dry and uninteresting ways possible. The students are never asked or told why knowing about the American government and her Constitution actually matters. Without challenging them to understand why they should care, they leave schooling never understanding why they should care moving forward. And so, society is filled with a bunch of adults, who hold strong opinions on government, but possess the barest understanding of the government and Constitution they now hold strong opinions about.

Working in the community college system, I’m privy to what community colleges and universities prioritize and let me tell you, it’s not education on government or the Constitution. And judging from what my students know when I get ahold of them, it was never prioritized when they were kids either.

Without getting into the weeds about the Constitutionality of a federal education system vs a state education system, I want to at least address one glaring problem inherent in not prioritizing a baseline knowledge of government and the Constitution.

So, first let me answer my own question.

Yes. Yes everyone in this country should possess at least a baseline knowledge of the American government and the Constitution. The founders consistently harped on the importance of a basic understanding of government in the citizenry for the survival or liberty and the accountability of government.

“Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.”

Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America, 1788

For example, I struggle for my classes to make. In other words, not enough students sign up for my American government classes and they end up being canceled. Why? Because, many of my students are planning to transfer to the universities and they want credits in subjects the universities require for their majors. Unfortunately, most programs in universities in NC don’t require American government as an elective, while they do require sociology or psychology and the like. Thus, students are discouraged from taking American government classes by the university system itself. Why take something you don’t have to take?

This is not to say that other subjects are not important. They are of great importance. We need people to pursue and become skilled in all manner of subjects and fields to be able to function as a society.

The problem with consistently neglecting civics education in favor of other subjects–psychology and sociology or any other for that matter–is this:

No education in biology or psychology or welding or policing or take your pick does anyone any good in a gulag.

red building with clock tower

In other words, the price to be paid, the cost of not understanding one’s government and the limitations on that government have the potential to be so painfully high that having learned all the other subjects would be for naught.

Citizens of the Soviet Union found that out that hard way.

It’s a miracle we’ve made it this long in this country, so we better hunker down and start taking education of government and the Constitution for ourselves and our children seriously, or else we or our children may find ourselves looking back, stripped of liberty but with all kinds of knowledge on every other subject, wishing we had been vigilant, informed citizens when we had the chance.

The Liberty Belle

5 thoughts on “Should Americans Really Have to Know About the Constitution and Government?”

  1. I believe it’s no accident students are kept in the dark, by a left dominated educational system. Serfs are more easily managed than informed citizens. So different than in my youth when US Constitution was a required grammar school class.

  2. I agree completely with Pat , growing up in Chicago , IL ” grammar ” school 1985 , one must have a score of 73% on the U S Constitution , before moving out of 8th grade , [ must have ] a mandatory condition , I do not know what Chicago does today , up here in Crawford County , MI civics 101 and the constitution for dummies would be a great start for the majority of everyone in local government up here , they believe more in a combination of autocracy –dictatorship , We have commented on this in the last two years in Liberty Bell “” BIG GOVERNMENT “” for the few , were laws and constitutions mean nothing ! for the few , only apply on a pick and choose basis and always the citizenry are chosen for examples of how the local circuit court operates , back to civics 101 and the constitution for dummies , up here they need first to learn about their oath of office , and what is their first job , as Christine has said repeatedly they are the employees of the people and the constitutions are their job description .

  3. To expand a bit on Patrick’s remarks above it is not only students who are being manipulated but also the American public.

    The Constitution is increasingly viewed as an instrument designed to fulfill the exigencies and current desires of the people. A common good Constitutionalism where the government can exercise powers it does not constitutionally have and enshrine rights the people do not constitutionally possess. The Constitution is not a genie in a bottle that grants wish’s nor is the Supreme Court there to defer to apolitical outcome that you failed to achieve at the ballot box. On the other side of the aisle everyone seems to be an angry populist revolutionary who would rather see the world burn than the left win. I’m not describing every Republican. But it’s clearly a big enough share.

    The Constitution gives Congress the authority for the vetting process that it uses to gives us judges who are qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, perhaps we also ought to give some thought to the better vetting process we use for the kind of people who serve in the U.S. Congress. It would be refreshing if we could reject party politics and adhere to the Constitution that believes in the foundation laid out by the Founding Fathers, such as: limited federal power, states’ rights, respect for the three separate but equal branches of government, and an unwavering commitment to our unalienable natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness endowed to us by our Creator. Simply put the proper role of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property — nothing more.

    As I outlined above there is a political psychological ground game in the two major parties play book that has the potential to cause anarchy and possibly end democracy. There is no longer even the passing attempt to justify outlandish assertions about stolen elections or what rights are actually granted in the Constitution. Everything is simply: “A bad thing happened to people we care about, and that cannot stand.” The means to achieve power is about getting people to be willing to participate in undermining the Constitution. That is achieved by making them sufficiently loyal, which is accomplished not only by denigrating Democrats with culture wars issues but also convincing Republicans that the entire system is against them and cannot be trusted.

    We could argue all day about uninformed voters, but the sad fact is immigrants who come to our shores and take the citizenship test know more about how our government works than the average citizen. Our country’s two oligarchy political factions disguised as a democracy have emptied elections of meaningful choices and therefore provided little guidance for policy. Unfortunately, being a member of a political party or voting against a candidate simply because he is an opposing party is a central part of personal identity for the great majority of Americans voters. If your love of country is contingent on your preferred faction being in power, you’ve confused partisanship for patriotism.

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